August 29, 2008

‘Not Going to Be Lap Dogs to the Democratic Party,’ Union Leader Says

By Joanne Kelley

Anna Burger says her prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday sent an important message to working people about the relevance of labor unions.

Her appearance also acknowledged her role as labor's most powerful woman.

Burger's involvement with organized labor started in 1972 when she was a social worker in Pennsylvania. Her activism led to political positions with the Service Employees International Union. She now holds the secretary-treasure post. The Rocky Mountain News caught up with Burger this week. Edited excerpts follow:

* On the state of unions: When I was born in 1950, one in three workers in Pennsylvania was a union member. Union density is much lower now.

It's much more difficult to organize because of threats and intimidation by employers. As unions gets smaller, it puts the American dream at greater risk.

* On her own union's political strategy this year: We have said we're not going to be lap dogs to the Democratic Party.

We're going to be a watchdog for our members. We have tried to stick to issues and be independent. We're spending $85 million this year to get Sen. Barack Obama elected and to win many other key races in battleground states.

* On what workers want: They want a voice on the job. They want health care. They want a platform. They want to bargain for wages.

We believe unions are the critical factor in helping workers get ahead. The Employee Free Choice Act will give workers the ability to form unions more easily than they can now.

* Of the "right-to-work" amendment that will ask Colorado voters to decide whether to ban mandatory dues workers with union contracts: What a waste of resources - millions of dollars that could be going toward something else.

They might be sorry they started this fight - that led to countermeasures by unions - because some of the union proposals will have a lot of popularity with workers who vote.

Originally published by Joanne Kelley, Rocky Mountain News.

(c) 2008 Rocky Mountain News. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.